Last week, we looked at why there are so many different versions of the Bible. Moving languages across time and culture takes a great deal of effort to get right. And there are three main ways translators can go about this: word-for-word (which we’ll discuss today), thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.
Word-for-word is probably the easiest to explain. At its most rigid, this simply means that a translator takes a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word and renders it as an English word or phrase. The translators even try to keep the word order as close to the original as they can. This isn’t always possible because English word order is much more restrictive than those ancient languages.
You might say that this type of translation is the most literal. And that’s its biggest selling point. These translations get about as close to the original text as you can get.
But, on the other hand, word-for-word translations can also be more difficult for a modern English speaker. The more literal, the more cumbersome some phrases may be. After all, there are some major cultural divides involved. A phrase that made sense in ancient Israel makes little or no sense to us. That’s why even the most direct translations have to make a few updates or add footnotes.
Here are some examples of word-for-word translations: English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), New American Standard (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
Next week, we’ll tackle thought-for-thought translations.
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